Unfinished bridges ‘an urban myth’

Graham SonnenbergGreen Point

If an invented story is repeated over a long enough period, it becomes the truth.

One such story is that of an elderly woman living in Bordeaux on Sea Point’s beach front, who complained to the police because she was offended by the sight of naked men at Graaff’s Pool, who was clearly visible if she stood on her dining room table.

People retell this story as if it were a fact, yet nobody knows the name of the old lady, the outcome of the complaint, or the year that it happened.

It is an urban myth.

Likewise, the commonly stated narrative that the bridges in Cape Town were left unfinished in the 1970s “mainly because of a lack of funds” as reported in your paper (and many other publications) is simply untrue (“City calls on investors to complete highway,” Atlantic Sun, June 30).

My father, Dr John Sonnenberg, became a City councillor in 1972 and recalls clearly that at that time, there were many new councillors who were inexperienced in the intricacies of running a large municipality. The older councillors had become wary of Solly Morris, the City engineer who was the driving force behind the new highway system.

Morris was the brainchild behind the construction of the Good Hope Centre (a “Nervi Hall”) incorporating the design of Professor Nervi of Rome, who was a personal acquaintance of his. It was extremely expensive to construct and incorporated grandiose ideas such as an indoor skating rink and a professional tennis court.

It was popular and well utilised for a short time, but then became a “white elephant”, just as many people had predicted.

Simultaneously, the envisioned circular highway surrounding the city was in the primary stage of construction. Some of the new councillors were environmentally inclined, as there was a green movement sweeping the globe, inspired by a book by Rachel Carson published in 1962 called Silent Spring.

A vote was taken to halt the completion of the bridges, partly in the interests of the environ-ment and partly because of the anti-Morris sentiment arising from the Good Hope Centre issue. There were sufficient funds to complete the highway at that time, even though it was an expensive project. My father voted in favour of completing the bridges, but the anti-Morris group and the supporters of the green movement won. A number of the councillors who voted in favour of abandoning the project are still alive today. Leaving these unsightly, unused dead concrete structures hanging over the Foreshore has made Cape Town a laughing stock for the past 40 years. It is hardly surprising that those who voted to halt the construction have remained silent, as their decision was plainly a grave error of judgement and not something to be proud of. Another faction argued that should the bridges be completed, the traffic on Hospital Bend and the Koeberg Interchange would result in a bottle neck. It would worsen the flow of traffic. Morris urged the councillors to take a wider view. The enlargement and re-alignment of the Koeberg Interchange and Hospital Bend were part of his grand plan. It took the council 30 years to implement these improvements and ironically they were forced to do so at the insistence of FIFA when the World Cup was staged here in 2010.

The majority voted in favour of halting the bridges.

Someone, somewhere then started spreading the story long ago that the reason that the bridges were not completed was lack of funding, but it is simply not true and I would like to set the record straight. It is a convenient urban myth.